Faced with lack of grazing, dwindling hay supplies and shrinking surface water sources, livestock producers continue to cull deeper into herds, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports.

"They're culling a lot deeper than they normally would, and they're culling a lot harder than they normally would," said Rick Hirsch, AgriLife Extension agent for Henderson County, west of Tyler. "And they're culling into the heart of their herds."

By "heart of their herds," Hirsch meant heifers and three- to six-year-old cows that should form the core of future production.

Producers are also selling calves early.

In Henderson County, sales have been in the range of 2,500 to 3,000 head per week at the Athens Commission Company, he said. During an average year in July, weekly sales counts should be more like 1,600 to 2,000 head.

"Statewide, I've been hearing huge numbers from auction markets in Central and West Central Texas," Hirsch said. "The numbers have been astronomical for this time of year."

According to reports from AgriLife Extension personnel in the Rolling Plains, area sale barns were turning people away because their sales were running so long.

On June 25 in Van Zandt County, east of Dallas, ranchers sold 825 head and 1,655 head on July 9, according to Tommy Phillips, Agrilife Extension agent for Van Zandt County.

It will take years to rebuild these herds, Hirsch noted.

"Partly because of the sheer numbers being culled, and the other (factor) is the higher cost of production," Hirsch said. "We have higher cattle prices right now, and that is helping the situation. But the high cost of replacements, the cost of fertilizer and the cost of fuel—all will make it harder to build numbers back up."

To help producers make better culling decisions, Henderson County will host a training session on Aug. 22 in Athens titled "Managing the Effects of Drought for Beef Producers." For more information contact Hirsch at 903-675-6130.

Other training programs and information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.

rd-burns@tamu.edu